Lights from Paradise is the second full-length from Toronto-based fuzz-rockers Quest for Fire, and it’s a great record. Harkening back to the grand old days of rock ‘n’ roll bombast, it manages to be that rarest of critters: an album that sounds instantly accessible and comfortable, yet is filled with enough surprises to reward repeat listenings. Oh and it rocks.
Quest for Fire waste little time as the opening tune, “The Greatest Hits by God”, is an eight-minute-long statement of purpose. Channeling a dreamy, hazy, distorted vibe, the song gradually morphs into a sludgy rocker built upon layers of distorted guitars and, go figure, fiddles. Over the course of its length, the song builds a head of steam courtesy of those shimmering swathes of distortion and the languid but never lazy vocals.
“Set Out Alone” follows with a meatier guitar groove riffing away above drum-bashing and bass-thumping, while the vocals, still spacey, carry a bit more urgency. A jumpy underpinning of insistent percussion underlies “Strange Vacation”, and the vaguely Pink Floyd-ish vocal delivery continues to float above the slashing guitars and pounding rhythm. Those ethereal, spacey (stoned?) vocals floating above the miasma really shouldn’t mesh so well with the instrumentation, but they do.
Generally, the three shorter songs (under four minutes each) are uptempo rave-ups, while the longer jams tap a downbeat, spacey but noisy vein. Five of the eight songs are over five minutes long, so the prevailing mood is dreamy. This becomes apparent on “Confusion’s Home”, a seven-minute opus that returns to the slower, stoner vibe of the opening song.
Words like “dreamy” and “languid” can often mean “dull” and “low energy”, but that is emphatically not the case here. The band’s sound manages to marry garage-rock verve with space-jam languidness. The product of this unholy union is a thoroughly enjoyable racket. Swathes of distorted guitar are the basic building blocks, but they give way frequently to noodling solos, violin or keyboard grace notes, and layers of drone. The sonic palette is impressively varied, given the basic materials at hand here.
The back half of the album is every bit as strong as the first, if a little less surprising now that the formula has been established. “In the Place of a Storm” is another full-on rocker that serves as a raucous pallette cleanser before the fiddle-and-acoustic-guitar dreamscape of “Psychic Seasons” and sludgy thunder of “Hinterland Who’s Who”. However, it’s the nine-plus minutes of album closer “Sessions of Light” which is likely to stay with the listener after the record has finished. As with the opening tune “The Greatest Hits by God”, this song begins slowly, gradually building via drones and feedback to a tectonic roar. Overlaid with those same breathy vocals, the song undergoes numerous dynamic shifts — from a spaced-out opening to a thudding midsection to a late dose of high-pressure thrash — before closing the proceedings with a fragile whimper.
It’s a great song, but only one on an record full of them. This is one of the most convincing guitar albums of the year. Long live rock.